Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm sad to say this but it's been about a month and a half since I have come back from Spain. Everyday I think about it and miss it! Yesterday I woke up and said, "today is a day I would love to be in Bilbao." I had to remind myself I am in the States and someday I will return.

But, until then...I want to continue to update this blog with reflections from my trip. A great way to make a study abroad experience worthwhile is to notice cultural differences and understand that we are all uniquely different!

My International Business class I took in Spain opened my eyes up to some major differences between Spain and the US. To name a few, I noticed the difference in technology, eating habits, and general everyday customs.

In Bilbao, they conserved electricity so efficiently it was one of the things that stood out for most of us on the trip. Overhead lights in the metro trains stayed off until stopping at stations, and even then the doors wouldn't open unless you pressed a button. This in turn conserved a lot of energy and as a business major, I understand that small changes save lots of money. In the shopping mall, escalators weren't constantly moving, but rather started moving once you stepped close to them. Another energy saver.

Another large cultural difference I want to reflect upon is the eating habits. Spanish people customarily have two main courses, instead of our usual one. Both are large, so you must eat slow. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and is both long and is a time to socialize. After lunch, there is a siesta time, which I will refer to later. Dinner is served at around 8:30 onward and is smaller than lunch. For me, this was very difficult to get accustomed to. My breakfast was around 8 or 9 and I was ready to eat lunch at 12 or so. Some of our days were packed with activity which made this waiting even harder. I surprisingly found it didn't harmed my digestion..

Lastly, their cultural habits were a bit different from ours. A typical greeting consisted of the kiss on both cheeks. Handshakes are not customary. Between the hours of 2 and 4:30 or so (I could never really figure out the actual times--just some time in the afternoon) they had a "siesta", which literally translates to nap. I was under the impression that everyone leaves work and closes down shop to take one large nap. However, I learned that siesta time is actually the time where stores close and people leave work to spend time with family. Family is a big deal for the Spaniards, and this is something I respect. Even though it may not be productive to take time out of work for leisure time, they care enough about their family to do this.

So far, these are my current reflections. But this semester I'm taking a Spanish Civilization course which thankfully reminds me every Tuesday and Thursday of my amazing experience in Spain. So be on the look out for more reflections!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Weekend to Remember

Can’t believe it’s already been one whole week since my last blog entry! I am definitely going to try and make a bigger effort to write more, but I haven’t done much since my last entry. I have been going to class and enjoying the everyday marvels this country offers including their high-tech metro system and orange juice machines (more on that later.) The weather has been almost consistent with a persistent overcast sky and temperature in the 60s but for some reason I don’t mind because everyday I am amazed at the fact that I live in Spain!

This past weekend was one of my favorite weekends. On Saturday, our group went on an excursion to Urdaibai, located in the Basque Country, the area in Spain where Bilbao is also situated. UNESCO declared Urdaibai a biosphere reserve (sites established and recognized to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science, in 1984. We drove through the mountains and saw the sea, meadows, beaches, and valleys. It was truly a spectacle as I have never seen anything like it and now understand why it is protected. Mundaka (which is also in the Reserve) is a beautiful fishing village, quiet and colorful with parks full of little children and benches occupied with old men. Everyone in that village seemed happy and relaxed. When we arrived at a beach in Mundaka, I was able to gain some insight into how much this country really loves soccer. The children had made a makeshift soccer field in the sand and were playing! Guess you don’t always need grass. I noticed this on another beach I visited on Sunday. Not only do they play soccer, but families on the beach play something reminiscent of paddle tennis as well. There seem to be a lot of activity on the beach instead of simply lying around sunbathing.

Later in the day my group visited Guernica, the historic capital of the Basque Country. Unbeknownst to me, Guernica was bombed in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War by German airplanes on behalf of Francisco Franco whose army was less developed with bombs than the Germans. The bombing occurred on market Monday, a day filled with the hustle and bustle of trading and buying and the citizens were completely blindsided. There was no warning and many people died as a result. A highlight of this trip was our visit to Guernica Peace Museum. This museum depicts the bombing and its aftermath but focuses more on the peace the Guernica citizens have attempted to attain after the bombing. It is less about the destruction and more about making peace with the Germans who caused them terror. I found that notion particularly poignant during my visit there, as I sat and watched a video on reconciliation and forgiveness filled with video clips on formal apologies by Germans to the city. It truly takes courage to be able to put all that in the past.

Duplicates of Picasso’s famous Guernica were in the museum as well. Another favorite of mine was when I wandered into an empty room with big pieces of glass depicting parts of Picasso’s painting. I stood on a pedestal with footprints to see what I was supposed to do. If you stand the correct way on the pedestal, you can see separate parts of the painting by Picasso. There are individual interpretations of each part of the painting on each piece of glass. If you tilt your head a little more, all the pieces come together to form the painting. I am a big fan of playing around with art and found this exercise to be awesome! Each part of the painting (humans, animals, the sun) represented something different in the bombing, though what each symbolized I cannot remember. After viewing the duplicate painting for the first time in the museum, I found it to be insensitive. I personally would rather not depict such a sad and brutal event through art but after standing on that pedestal and getting a physical interpretation of each part of the painting, I was able to understand Picasso’s idea a little better.

I am attaching a few links at the end of this post for more information on everything I talked about in this post, which hopefully clarifies any questions you may be having as you’re reading this.

Lastly, in Guernica, we visited the General Assembly House. What stuck out most to me was the oak tree they revere. Years ago, the people of Guernica would meet around the big oak tree and make important political decisions. Today, they have an old oak tree on display from around 300 years ago. The seed from the first tree has been passed down and is planted next to the House and has grown into a little oak tree. It’s weird to think it’s “related” to the first big important tree!

The second day of my weekend was spent lounging on a beach in Sopelana. My observations were mentioned before: lots of physical activity but also a lack of bathing suit tops…not sure if I’ll ever get used to that! It was a relaxing day and discovered that more people frequent the beach later in the day around 4 o’clock, different from our usual early afternoon time period. I look forward to going back to the beach and if you ever visit Pais Vasco, (Basque Country) I definitely suggest you check out the biosphere reserve of Urdaibai!

Links of interest:
Picasso’s Guernica:

Monday, July 2, 2012

First Week Over!

First week abroad complete!

Before I launch into a long narrative, I would like to thank my dad for this experience. Without him, I wouldn't be here among my friends at our residence hall typing away on this blog. So, thank you papa for all your support and encouragement and most of all for believing in me!

Wow…so I am in Spain! I am still trying to get over how surreal this is. Exactly one week ago, my group arrived in Madrid. We had excursions planned the moment we stepped off the airplane—no time to rest! We went on a walking tour to Palacio Real, where Ferdinand and Isabel lived at one point. As it was my first time visiting a castle, I was very impressed! We walked through many rooms in the palace and were able to walk through the armory. Needless to say, the knight armory and swords caught my eye. The next day my business program visited Toledo, Spain, a beautiful and historic city that is amazing. UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage Site, a title that is given to locales in the world with major historical and cultural significance. We visited the place that makes the swords for Hollywood (specifically Lord of the Rings!) and a beautiful cathedral in the city. Prior to the excursion, I had no knowledge of this place but am so happy we got to visit it especially since the river and castle were reminiscent of Hogwarts! Check out this link for pictures and more information on Toledo:  Our last day in Madrid was spent at the Museo del Prado where I was able to put my college art history knowledge to work. Their selection of Velázquez and Goya paintings is impressive and vast especially since they have Las Meninas and the Black Paintings.

I enjoyed our visit to Madrid but the scorching 100+ degree weather combined with Madrid’s cold and detached city vibe was not for me. We jumped on a bus to head north through the mountains and valleys for Bilbao. As we neared Bilbao, the mountains and grass became greener and more lush. My anticipation for the city and my feelings of relief and excitement after getting a glimpse of it is indescribable. This city is in a valley surrounded by colossal green mountains with a river running right through it! Imagine my excitement, especially after lugging my belongings up to our residence hall nestled in mountains. The view is breathtaking but the climb up is torturous. I am waiting for my legs to get used to this!

So, for the past few days we have been taking tours of the city and university (more detailed posts to come). We drove to Plentzia, a town on the water about 20 minutes away from Bilbao and although it was cold, the beach was still beautiful. The next day we visited the Guggenheim Museum. I didn’t realize the significance of this museum until I spoke with a woman who traveled from Australia just to see it. The architecture of the building is incredible and the art inside is worth a trip halfway across the world. That night, I got to have an authentic Spanish experience! My friends and I went to a festival in Sopelana, another beach town. There were people in the streets drinking and dancing to nearby bar music and the streets were packed with people. My friend compared it to Mardi Gras in the states, but this is incomparable and the energy was infectious! We left “early” because natives finish their partying as late as six in the morning.

Flash-forward to today, I have completed my first day of classes! Not much to report on since the first day is always syllabus day, but I got placed in the advanced Spanish language class and am taking the International Business course. So far the Spanish class has been manageable since I can follow what my instructor is saying and I just finished my reading for intntl business…ask me about globalization!  So now I can surely say that this first week has been great! I [think] I fit right in and am looking forward to the next four weeks. Stay tuned for more posts about random musings! Hasta luego!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Waiting for the Adventures to Begin...

Welcome to my study abroad blog! I'm glad you have stumbled upon this gem, I hope to be publishing some exciting stories of my adventures as I explore Spain in less than a week. As a student of UMW, I am joining 31 other students to celebrate the 10th year of UMW in Spain starting June 24th. We will be touring Madrid and making the Bilbao campus of University of Deusto our home. This university is currently over 125 years old! It will be interesting to witness the cultural differences.

As a student, I have chosen to enroll in the summer Business program and am going to be taking an international business course and a Spanish literature course. Among the topics I am interested in as a child of the 21st century, international business appeals to me the most. I am a Business major and a Business Spanish minor but International Affairs was second on my list to major in. I look forward to studying the "business" of business on an international front. I am equally ready to study SPAIN! It will be a good way to improve my Spanish both for practical reasons in the country and for the classroom in Virginia.

I am excited to utilize my blog to its fullest; not only will it be a running narration of my adventures in Spain, but it will also be something I can look back on fondly in days, months, years to come and remember my study abroad experience.

So I hope you stay tuned because there will be some adventures to come in the next weeks!